Celtics-Bulls preview: Stopping transition

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Celtics-Bulls preview: Stopping transition

CHICAGO There were plenty of feel-good moments in Boston's win at Milwaukee on Saturday. But arguably the most impressive aspect of the victory was that the Celtics' defense limited the always-on-the-run Bucks from going buck wild in transition.

The 15 points given up by the Celtics on fast-break points only tells a part of the story of what was a strong night for their transition defense.

A big part of limiting opponents in transition has to do with cutting down on turnovers, something the Celtics would love to do tonight against the Chicago Bulls.

In Saturday's 96-92 win over the Bucks, the Celtics played a nearly flawless fourth quarter, shooting well over 50 percent from the field without committing a single turnover.

By not turning the ball over, that allows Boston's defense to set itself up which in turn makes it tougher -- a lot tougher -- for opponents to generate points.

"The games that we lost, transition defense has been our Achilles heel," said Celtics guard Jason Terry. "(Saturday) we made it a point. For the most part, we were able to control our turnovers."

Boston will not have an easy time continuing that trend of limiting turnovers against a Bulls team that has been among the NBA's best squads defensively under former Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Bulls have been especially strong in forcing turnovers this season, with opponents coughing it up 16.7 times a game which ranks seventh in the league.

But the C's come into tonight's game with the confidence that comes about from having seen tangible growth in what has been one of their greatest weaknesses - transition defense.

And to do it against a Bucks team with such dynamic open court scorers like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, only adds to that positive vibes they are feeling right now.

"If you can stop it against (Milwaukee), you can do it against anybody," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "This team is as good as you're going to find, this and Miami, at just breaking you down with multiple players."

Transition defense is just one of the many concerns Boston has heading into tonight's game against the Bulls. Here are a few other keys to the game as the Celtics try and snap

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Rajon Rondo has been shredding defenses apart all season with an array of pin-point passes resulting in double-digit assists every game. He's the primary reason why the Celtics rank among the top-five this season in assists per game. But the Bulls have made it tough on opponents when it comes to getting assists. In fact, they are only giving up 19.8 per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Joakim Noah. There's no love lost between these two, which only adds more intrigue and suspense to this matchup between two of the better teams in the East.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Green had a breakout game at Milwaukee on Saturday with 12 points and strong play defensively. It'll be interesting to see if he can build off of that performance or whether he'll return to Struggelesville, which he has called home for most of this year.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston has had its share of problems limiting opponents scoring in the paint. They currently rank 27th in the league with foes churning out 45.7 points in the paint per game. The Bulls may be just what the Celtics need right now. Chicago comes into tonight's game among the NBA's worst at scoring around the basket. The C's would do themselves a world of good in keeping the Bulls around their 38 points-in-the-paint per game average which ranks No. 23 in the NBA.

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.